FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) – The interim secretary general of the World Council of Churches has written to Turkey’s president expressing his â€œgrief and dismayâ€ over Turkey’s decision to change the status of Istanbul’s landmark Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque.
As a World Heritage museum, â€œHagia Sophia has been a place of openness, encounter and inspiration for people from all nations,â€ Ioan Sauca said in the letter released Saturday by the Geneva-based group.
The colossal Hagia Sophia was built 1,500 years ago as an Orthodox Christian cathedral and was converted into a mosque after the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, now Istanbul, in 1453. The secular Turkish government decided in 1934 to make it a museum.
Sauca said the museum status had been â€œa powerful expressionâ€ of Turkey’s commitment to inclusion and secularism.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday formally converted the building back into a mosque and declared it open for Muslim worship, hours after a high court annulled the 1934 decision turning it into a museum.
Erdogan, a devout Muslim, has frequently used the debate over Hagia Sophia to drum up support for his Islamic-rooted party. The decision has provoked deep dismay among Orthodox Christians.